Canada's long-awaited new Internationalization Strategy was released Wednesday. And it's godawful.
It's a 30-page document, but minus the cover page, colophon, table of contents, introduction, 12 pages of fact sheets, and another four pages to describe previous consultations and provide global context, it's really just 10. Of these 10, roughly half describes initiatives the government has already undertaken, (existing scholarship programs, Mitacs funding, etc). So, then, five pages – maybe. Part of this is spent re-hashing lines about Canada's "brilliant" reputation for international education – a claim which their own research says is utterly false (see this post on DFAIT's brand research).
In those five pages, the government of Canada makes specific commitments to:
– Spend $5-million to give Canada a re-brand. And do a bunch of stuff already announced in the last budget;
– Consult regularly with stakeholders;
– Establish a Trade Commissioner presence within the Canadian Consortium on International Education to "co-ordinate efforts" (to what end is not stated);
– Support an event management system to better co-ordinate events held by stakeholders.
That's it. That's the entirety of the strategy's commitments. There are some additional words in there that talk about "developing the export of education know-how… by supporting marketing efforts of Canadian stakeholders", but it's all vague, meaningless guff.
Amazingly, the document sets no real goals for the government. It sets targets for other people (e.g. doubling the number of foreign students by 2022), but that's not the same thing. There's no rationale for such numbers as are in the strategy, and the activities in the strategy are not linked to intended outcomes in any way. Similarly, although the document talks about focussing efforts on selected certain foreign markets, these markets turn out to be India, China, Brazil, the entire Middle East/North Africa region, Mexico, and Vietnam. The rationale for the last two are mysterious; the first four contain half the world's population. That's some focus.
Towards the end of the document, the government informs us gravely that it will be monitoring effectiveness, and putting performance measures in place – checking whether their "inputs" (spending five million bucks on a brand, and doing some consultations) are producing the appropriate "outputs" (265,000 more international students by 2022, a greater proportion of whom choose to stay here after studying). When I say it is laughable, I am not using a figure of speech. Honestly, I haven't laughed so hard in weeks.
This "strategy", if we can call it that, is without question the most thorough and comprehensive argument for why the government of Canada should stay out of higher education. It is shallow. It is abject. It shows no sign of being the product of discussion with either the provinces, who are responsible for education in this country, or the colleges and universities who deliver it. It does not articulate problems well. It does not focus resources in a meaningful way, nor are the investments it lists in any way proportionate to what few goals it does set out.
Far from being strategic, the document is little more than a collection of gestures attached to a wish list. If DFAIT thinks this fits the definition of a strategy, then the department is in desperate need of a new dictionary.
Canada, as a country, can and should do better than this.
Alex Usher is the president of Higher Education Strategy Associates.